Thoughts Before Whittling

Sarah Gridley

for Arden

When a block of wood
falls into your hands,
angle the knife away,
skim the wood as you would milk.
Listening for what to do next is this
transparent, the bones of the ear,
this exactingly small.
As you were
will be the command
restoring you to love.
You will not
pretend to forget
what is hard
and innermost here.
Years ago,
you were gifted a tea set
that made no sense.
So miniature the cups,
the pot, the creamer—
any attempt at ceremony
could only overrun them.
Do not deceive me,
and I will no more
pour you away.

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Sarah Gridley is an associate professor of English at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio. Her poetry collections include Weather Eye Open (University of California Press); Green is the Orator (University of California Press); and Loom (Omnidawn). She has a B.A. in English and American Literature from Harvard University, and an MFA in poetry from the University of Montana.

Kalamazoo, Michigan

Western Michigan University

Winner of the 2019 Green Rose Prize

“Although its titles form an abecedarian, Sarah Gridley’s Insofar eschews ornament, irony, and merely trendy formal experiment. Her lyric poems are implicative, understated, their traces of narrative never resolving into tidy conclusions or gems of wisdom. Each stanza has a heuristic brilliance, an understated, mysterious gravity derived from the author’s constant attention to the uncounterfeitable particularity of her language — measured out in wildly alive lines broken to splay and recalibrate meanings. Gridley’s poems might be said to inaugurate the school of existential intimacy.”
—Forrest Gander, Judge

“Within the artifice of the alphabet’s orders—that architecture, that archive—we must find a way to inscribe an actual attention culled from the fact of our lives. We might note the facts tend to go astray, feel less than factual, and become a kind of faith. What such work requires, Sarah Gridley knows, is a strange and generous openness, one that welcomes in the world ‘as the shy host might a desired guest.’ Such hospitality is an ancient form of genius, a genius embodied in the kind complexities of these wondrous, wondering poems. Attuned to the intricate in-foldings and un-foldings of world and word, a philosophy quietly gathers in these pages, like ‘honey yet to be had.’ They ask, as we must learn to ask, ‘where is a conscious moment,’ knowing, as we must learn to know, that consciousness isn’t an arrival but a pursuit. ‘I see what is noticed / is only sometimes / what is known.’ The I, the eye, is open ever-wider in these poems, somehow shy and somehow audacious, reverent and truthful, a genius of the heart and the hearth and the earth and the art.”
—Dan Beachy-Quick

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